by Maria Misra
The television series Downton Abbey is much mocked for its anachronistic depiction of improbably progressive aristocratic life early last century. Lord Downton’s stuffy drawing room has hosted Irish Fenians, radical suffragettes, socialist parlour maids and a host of intriguing “oriental gentlemen”. But reading BBC journalist Anita Anand’s absorbing biography of Sophia Duleep Singh suggests that Downton’s creator — Julian Fellowes — has shown great restraint. For in Duleep Singh we have a figure far more improbable than any conjured up for Downton: a real-life Sikh princess; an anti-vivisectionist; a radical feminist; a friend of “extremist” nationalists — and a goddaughter of Queen Victoria.